I suppose that with all of the other teams dominating the Los Angeles sports scene, it’s inevitable that college baseball is, and always has been, under the radar.
Which is a real pity, as the eight Division One baseball teams in L.A. and Orange County provide some quality baseball at – in what is very good news for families – low prices, exuding a minor league atmosphere in a major league area.
Three of the Southland’s college teams are the most prominent, at least this year. Let’s describe them and how they are doing as the college season is roughly at the mid-way point:
UCLA BRUINS: 20-9, 7-5 in the Pac-12 Conference.
This has arguably been SoCal’s most successful program in the 21st century, as these Bruins have played in the College World Series in Omaha, NE – the pinnacle of amateur baseball – two out of the last three years after only appearing in two College World Series in their 90 years of existence.
Among the Bruin alumni who have played in the majors are Chase Utley of the Philadelphia Phillies, 2002 World Series MVP Troy Glaus, all-time L.A. Dodger home run leader Eric Karros, and a guy who is having a much talked about movie describing his career about to come out: Jackie Robinson, who UCLA named their baseball stadium after.
Coach John Savage has taken the program to another level in his nine seasons, mostly with the pitching as UCLA’s team earned run average this year is an outstanding 2.76, with David Berg being the standout as the Bruin closer has six saves, a 1.12 ERA, and has walked just four batters all season to date.
Hitting is a concern for UCLA, however, as only one player – second baseman Trent Charlton – is batting over .300.
Center fielder Brian Carroll is batting .298, and shortstop Pat Valaika leads the team with three home runs and 27 RBI’s, but no other regular has an average over .270. And the Bruins as a team have hit just ten homers.
If UCLA wants to make their third College World Series in four years, their hitting must improve. And fast.
They have a three-game series against Westside neighbor Loyola Marymount this weekend at Jackie Robinson Stadium. For more information, go to www.UCLABruins.com
USC TROJANS: 12-20, 5-7 in the Pac-12 Conference
If there is one flagship college baseball program in Los Angeles, USC is it as their 12 national championships are by far the most in the nation; no other school has more than six NCAA titles.
Their alumni is a who’s who of baseball royalty, with Randy Johnson, Mark McGwire, and Hall of Famers Fred Lynn and Tom Seaver among the former Trojans on the diamond.
Considering their recent struggles, however, those glory days – their last national crown was won in 1998 – are but a distant memory as ‘SC is on their third coach in four seasons, with Frank Cruz being fired earlier this year for violating NCAA rules.
USC’s pitching is the main reason why the Trojans have already lost 20 games in 2013, as their team earned run average is almost 5.00. Kyle Twomey and Brent Wheatley have started the most games on the mound, but their stats are nothing spectacular as they both have losing records and ERA’s of over four and a half.
Their hitting is solid as four of their regulars are batting over .321, led by second baseman Adam Landecker, who’s batting .329. Third baseman James Roberts leads the Trojans with three homers and 18 RBIs.
‘SC’s next three games will be against Arizona State at home this weekend. More info can be found at www.USCTrojans.com
CAL STATE FULLERTON TITANS: 29-4, 6-0 in the Big West Conference
I must be honest…
When I researched these Titans’ records and statistics, what I saw scared me as with their numbers being what they are – combined with their current eight-game winning streak – it’s safe to say that this is a team that’s a clear favorite to be in the College World Series this June.
Having never had a losing season in 35 years of D-1 play, Cal State Fullerton, with their four NCAA championships, can also boast alums who have stood out in “The Show”, such as current Dodger third base coach Tim Wallach, Phil Nevin, and Mark Kotsay.
This year’s Titans are particularly scary on the mound as well as at the plate.
Their starting pitchers are a combined 19-2, with their ace, Thomas Eshelman, sporting a 1.09 ERA and – get this - ZERO walks.
None of their starters have an ERA higher than 2.72; I’m sure major league teams would be drooling over a starting staff like that.
There is one guy on that CSUF team who is truly the man, both with his arm and his bat: Michael Lorenzen.
As the team’s closer, Lorenzen has a 1.54 earned run average and a whopping 12 saves, which if that doesn’t lead the nation definitely comes close, but on top of everything else, he’s the Titans’ leading hitter as well as he leads the team in average (.360), home runs (7) and RBIs (35)
Putting it another way, I’d be surprised of teams don’t intentionally walk him often and dejectedly go “Awww, man!” when he appears on the mound in the 9th inning.
Their run through the Big West conference continues this weekend when they host U.C. Santa Barbara. If you want to check these Titans out, go to www.fullertontitans.com for ticket information.